What Comes After Graduation? University of Montana LaunchPad Alumni Careers
While founding a startup during or after college is certainly one LaunchPad outcome deemed a ‘success,’ it is far from the only path students may take (or take immediately). More holistically, entrepreneurship is about building oneself. It is about exhibiting emerging leadership, confidence, and resilience, and strengthening skills necessary for success in all parts of a person’s professional and personal life. Paul Gladen, at the University of Montana, takes this perspective seriously and as a result, the entrepreneurial students he has worked with have gone on to achieve impressive, and varied, career success.
When Blackstone LaunchPad & Techstars network Campus Director Paul Gladen thinks about the journeys his students have taken after finishing their time at the University of Montana, many have gone on to found successful startups. Some of them have done so immediately (even before graduating) while others have “returned to entrepreneurship” after gaining valuable experience ‘in the real world’ where they identified opportunities for new products and services. He’s also supported students who have gone on to join small startups and big tech firms, or land research and development roles in businesses and nonprofits. Others have even gone on to find a more intrapreneurial path with nonprofits or science and technology-focused state and federal governmental agencies.
“Leveraging skills gained from their exploration of entrepreneurship through LaunchPad makes graduates valuable to any business or organization they join, whether they’re in an innovation role or not,” said Paul.
At the University of Montana, facilitating these kinds of opportunities and making these entrepreneurial connections happens in a number of ways. This has included organizing internship opportunities at alumni startups, inviting founders to speak to classes or participate in programs like Startup Weekend, judging pitch competitions, and even “assigning” market expansion or product segmentation challenges collected from local business contacts to his LaunchPad teams. Collectively, these experiences expose students to the frameworks and exercises, like the Business Model Canvas, Lean Startup, or Kanban board, that are critical to startups and their leaders.
Liberal Arts + Entrepreneurship Education
For schools like UMT, where the highly-demanded soft-skills of creativity, problem-solving, and communication are taught in a liberal arts setting, equipping students with tangible entrepreneurial knowledge makes them significantly more effective in the workplace. According to Paul, “It’s a really powerful combination. Particularly because so much of early-stage business growth is about listening, translating those learnings into strategy, and then effectively communicating your value proposition.” He and others are convinced this coupling of soft- and hard-skills happening at UMT is only going to grow in importance as automation replaces even technical and complex (but repeatable) tasks. In that new work environment, judgment, ethical decision-making, and the kind of EQ-based analysis and interpretation can’t be coded into a machine. As a result, students with that background and knowledge are primed to be highly valued.
Below are just a few of the countless UMT students achieving success in post-collegiate professional journeys – all of whom credit the LaunchPad team and the entrepreneurial skills they learned with playing a critical role in that success.
Leading New Vertical Product Development with Missoula, MT-based OnX
Andrew Burrington’s talent and potential stood out to Paul Gladen early during his time at UMT, and not only because he won multiple pitch competitions as co-founder of an air quality-monitoring startup New Leaf Environmental. In addition to being coached and mentored through the LaunchPad, Andrew also quickly got involved in a local venture networking group Paul had helped build.
In 2015, after graduation and giving his own startup a go for several months, Andrew joined onXmaps, a Missoula-based geospatial data tech company that has grown from 20 employees at the time, to nearly 200 today, and raised $20 million in a Series A round in the meantime. Originally onX’s ‘digital marketing department’, within two years at the startup Andrew moved into leading Product Management (and went back to the LaunchPad for advice when he did). Seeking some experienced guidance, Paul leveraged his network to connect Andrew to another UM alum, aProduct Manager at eBay. That individual ended up becoming a 6-month contractor for the company and was critical to Andrew’s continued professional growth.
“In addition to recognizing the value of the network, one important lesson I learned through the LaunchPad was how critical passion is,” said Andrew. “Whether it’s your startup, or it’s your career, you have to drive it to achieve success. No one else is going to do that for you.” Another important practice Andrew gained through Paul’s coaching was to approach each challenge with a fresh perspective and recognize its uniqueness. “I still fall back on asking the ‘5 Whys’ because pulling the information you need out of people to solve a problem is difficult, but so important.”
Andrew has maintained his relationship with the UMT LaunchPad and lives the #givefirst philosophy by serving as a judge, coach, and mentor to students interested in the outdoor and tech industries. He also joined the advisory board of UMT’s MIS program at Paul’s suggestion in 2017.
Most memorably, Andrew recalls a ‘Summit’ between UMT and Montana State University shortly after both schools joined the LaunchPad network. “We shared best practices and program approaches, with the goal of making the community richer for student entrepreneurs at both schools.”
Developing Business Strategy with Deloitte Digital Anywhere He Chooses
Zach Falen connected with the UMT LaunchPad in 2016 as a student founder with his startup Bloom Content, a video production, design, and content company. At the time, Bloom targeted small businesses in the local community and connected them to student content creators. After some mentoring and coaching from Paul and others, his business won the John Ruffatto Business Startup Challenge in 2017. Following graduation, however, Zach and his co-founders were faced with some tough decisions when strong job opportunities arose.
“At the time we were working with a lot of student employees, and we decided we didn’t want to keep doing that. Especially when we recognized the professional opportunities available to us,” said Zach. “So we agreed to split the assets we’d accumulated and moved into more traditional career tracks.” For one of his co-founders, that opportunity was with Red Bull, but for Zach, that meant the chance to join Deloitte Digital as a full-stack developer and cloud architect consultant in Seattle, WA.
When asked what he gained from the LaunchPad that was most valuable, it wasn’t a specific skill or subject matter. “For me, it was the application of entrepreneurship. In my coursework, I’d learned a little bit about marketing, a little bit about accounting, a little bit about finance… but Paul and the LaunchPad took those lessons and helped me apply them in the real world to my own real business.” That support was instrumental to Zach during his time as a startup founder, but throughout his professional career as well. “I think I am a stronger consultant to my clients because I have this perspective and take this very reality-based approach.”
Today, Zach’s talent and hard work – as well as the value Deloitte places on his entrepreneurial experience – have earned him a remarkable degree of flexibility. In addition to being able to recently move back to Missoula, he’s just about to convert a new cargo van into a mobile office!
From AmeriCorps to Science and Technology Policy Fellow in Washington D.C.
Genevieve Lind arrived at the UMT LaunchPad in 2017, less traditionally than other students. Having recently completed a Ph.D. in Neuroscience, she was looking for a one-year professional experience that would build on her resume and improve her competitiveness for a coveted career goal: an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science & Technology Policy Fellowship. The AmeriCorps VISTA role in the LaunchPad proved to be a perfect fit.
“Once introduced, I immediately had a great conversation with Paul and Morgan and got really excited about what they were doing,” said Genevieve. “They were interested in building relationships with the campus research community I came from, and I was enthusiastic about their focus on increasing opportunity for underrepresented communities.”
Over the course of her year with the LaunchPad, Genevieve cites her work on the ‘Pursue Your Passions’ female founder program, her (successful) NSF I-Corps program grant application, and helping facilitate local community engagement at the John Ruffatto Business Startup Challenge as the most impactful. According to Genevieve, “Everyone at the LaunchPad had so much faith in me and my potential. They bring this energy to all of their programming and interactions with students. Their confidence that I could contribute to everything from program strategy and development to student teaching and training was a key inflection point in my personal and professional development.”
Though years have passed, Paul’s memory of Genevieve hasn’t dimmed at all. “She’s incredible. And I think her exposure to the LaunchPad entrepreneurial experience really opened her ideas to a different way of thinking about the deep scientific expertise she’d developed in her coursework.”